Monday, 30 July 2018

Review: What's Left Now? The History and Future of Social Democracy, by Andrew Hindmoor

Patrick Diamond



Andrew Hindmoor's monograph on the future prospects for British social democracy is one of the most important to have been written on the left for some years. 

Hindmoor is an academic who refuses to indulge in comforting intonations about the evils of Thatcherism and neo-liberalism. Not everyone will agree with his analysis, particularly Hindmoor's assessment of the post-1997 Labour governments. But anyone with an interest in progressive politics should engage seriously with the arguments in What's Left Now?

Hindmoor begins by taking issue with the orthodox left's interpretation of history. He contends that the British left, despite its claim to temperamental optimism, ‘holds to a remorselessly bleak and miserabilist view’. 

The sense of gloom and negativity is deeply ingrained. It has long been the case that intellectuals on the left and the right of the Labour party were pessimistic about the long-term prospects of the Labour movement. Both wings of the party were grappling with the same existential question: why was it that in the era of full franchise mass democracy, Labour was not more successful in winning elections, remaining in government, and carrying out a radical socialist programme?

Left intellectuals like Ralph Miliband, the author of Parliamentary Socialism, argued that Labour failed to command the allegiance of the working class. It was a labour party, not a socialist party. Labour's electoral performance was weak as working class voters grew increasingly disillusioned. Wilson in the 1960s and Blair after 1997 lost the support of the party's core social constituency. Labour was then roundly defeated. 

Miliband claimed the party would never succeed as a conformist, insular, middle-of-the-road movement. On the Labour right, David Marquand insisted the Labour party was enfeebled because it was labour, saddled with old-fashioned institutions such as the trade unions that inhibited the party from winning the allegiance of a broad alliance of voters. 

Throughout the post-war years, it was feared that class dealignment and structural change were eroding Labour's electoral support. The advent of Thatcherism thus confirmed what many on the left most feared. The tide of history was moving inexorably against socialism, transforming Britain into a selfish and individualistic society prone to perpetual Conservative rule.

Britain is not a poster child for neo-liberalism

What's Left Now? directly confronts this pessimistic view of history. Hindmoor advances two central propositions. Firstly, Labour governments make a positive difference, enacting vital social reforms that generally make Britain a more progressive country. Secondly, he argues that Britain in the last three decades has certainly not become ‘a poster-child for neo-liberalism’.

Not everyone will agree with Hindmoor's account of Labour's years in power after 1997. He finds the Left's attack on the Blair governments bewildering and maintains: ‘It is unfortunate that New Labour's legacy—which includes significant public expenditure increases, the introduction of tax credits, a minimum wage, devolution, and freedom of information—has been reduced to its foreign policy failures and the 2007-8 financial crisis.’ 

What's Left Now? is especially critical of the contention that New Labour was beholden to neo-liberalism, offering Thatcherism with a human face. That said, Hindmoor is not oblivious to the failings of the Blair–Brown administrations. He accepts that the military invasion of Iraq may well have been a monumental foreign policy error.

The book is especially strong on the origins of the British housing crisis, and the link between housing and rising inequality. The richest spend proportionately less of their income on housing, but live in far nicer houses and neighbourhoods than the poor. Hindmoor persuasively demonstrates that the disaster of UK housing policy is not that government has pulled back and spending has been slashed since the 1970s. As fewer houses were built, the state spent more on subsidising the housing costs of low income families in private rented accommodation. Local authorities across England after 1997 failed to construct more affordable homes for ‘social rent’. New Labour was slow to acknowledge the severity of the housing crisis, and its encouragement of a more unequal society.

Yet What's Left Now? emphasises that British society has not moved unequivocally in a rightward direction since 1979, nor has it been irrevocably shaped by neo-liberalism. All sorts of paradoxes and contradictions have emerged. For example, Thatcherism certainly drove a wave of middle class prosperity in the 1980s which made Britain more than ever a country of ‘two nations’. 

The long-term consequence, however, wasn't that more affluent citizens simply retreated into enclaves of ‘private affluence’. These voters became even more concerned about ‘public squalor’ and the state of public services, particularly health and education. During the 1980s and early 1990s, public support for higher spending rose dramatically. This paved the way for an extended period of New Labour hegemony after 1997.

Beyond austerity

If the British left does have a strategic vulnerability that undermines Labour's ability to win elections and enact a transformative programme, it lies in the sphere of economics. Hindmoor acknowledges the seismic impact of the 2008 crisis. The financial crash undermined Labour's economic credibility because the party was in power when the crisis struck. The fiscal aftershock that came after meant there was no money left for additional public spending; in these circumstances, what was the Left now for? After 2010, the Labour party sought to oppose ‘Tory austerity’; but what was Labour's alternative?

Labour's 2017 election manifesto was heralded as a vote winner for the party, the most radical programme since 1945. But aside from calls for a more active state, greater public investment and nationalisation of the major utilities, there is little sign that as yet Labour has been able to map out a coherent economic strategy. 

A Labour administration led by Jeremy Corbyn would face the same problem that all Labour governments have confronted. It would seek to rein in the excesses of British capitalism but the British state would still be structurally dependent on a capitalist economy. Not surprisingly, the Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, has recently adopted more conciliatory rhetoric towards the City of London. 

On the UK's relationship with the European Union after Brexit, the Labour party is closer to corporate business interests than the May government, signalling its support for a modified customs union, and potentially ongoing membership of the European single market.

To be sure, Corbyn's party has aspirations to dramatically expand the role of the state. But would the next Labour government really be in a position to alter the underlying forces and dynamics of the British economy that have led to plummeting productivity, major regional imbalances, and soaring inequality over the last thirty years? 

Too busy railing against the bogeyman of neo‐liberalism, Hindmoor's book is a reminder that unless the left is prepared to develop serious, intellectually coherent ideas, its chances of success in transforming the economic and political landscape of Britain are likely to be extremely limited.

Patrick Diamond is Senior Lecturer at Queen Mary, University of London. 

This article is adapted from a longer piece in the Political Quarterly journal.

What's Left Now? The History and Future of Social Democracy, by Andrew Hindmoor is published by Oxford University Press. 285 pp. £20.00.

Wednesday, 25 July 2018

Victims should be participants in justice, not spectators

Natacha Harding

Victims have traditionally had, at best, a spectator role in the criminal justice system. But the public significance of the victim has shifted over successive governments.

This article focuses on two forms of political interaction – expert led policy development, and public inquiries. In carrying out inquiries, successive governments have, perhaps inadvertently, tended to replicate the ‘hierarchy of victimisation’ that is witnessed in frontline criminal justice activities. This has the result of affording victims only a spectator role when policy and legislative changes are being developed in their name.

By contrast, the actions taken in developing expert and practitioner‐led policy around victim experience have proved to be more ‘successful’ in generating lasting change.

In responding to victims’ needs, there is an ongoing conflict between political words and actions, and, particularly in the case of inquiries, the emerging role of victim resistance and anger.

Expert led policy development


Victim‐focused policy changes since 2010 have been aimed at improving the situation for specific vulnerable groups—such as those who have experienced domestic abuse, (cyber)stalking, and non‐consensual pornography—as well as attempting to improve the general experience for victims.

Although they signify incremental small steps in change, the Code of Practice for Victims of Crime, as well as domestic abuse policy, and developments in restorative justice demonstrate that the interaction between experts and practitioners with political bodies has the ability to produce policy and legislation that could make a genuine difference to the experiences of victims in the form of new offences and changes in practice guidance.

While this approach allows little opportunity for victims to participate, key players in the victim support community—including practitioners—work to ensure that they represent the ‘victim voice’ as authentically as possible.

Public inquiries


Political, public facing, inquiries have long been utilised by governments to show that ‘something is being done’ in the aftermath of a high profile tragic incident. The drawing together of large groups of individuals affected by a shared experience—such as a single tragedy—to understand how to improve practice in the future or attempt to answer questions of ‘what went wrong’. The public inquiry potentially allows a greater level of participation in the policy process, since anyone who falls within the terms of reference can make representations.

However, while certainly a positive approach to participatory democracy, the competing nature of different groups’ needs alongside the temporary nature of such bodies makes the public inquiry a challenging climate in which to achieve long lasting change.

Grenfell Tower inquiry


A key example is the inquiry following the extensive fire in Grenfell Tower on the night of 14 June 2017. The sense that the tragedy and the subsequent loss of life could have been avoided quickly became the dominant media narrative. There were growing calls for ‘something to be done’.

Victim/resident outrage dominated the media narrative and loud calls for action were made. The swift coming together of the local authority, victims, residents, charitable organisations and private businesses undoubtedly helped to spur the government into action. A public inquiry was announced by Theresa May on 29 June 2017, which had its first hearing on 14 September 2017. It will explore the issues leading up to the fire, including why residents’ concerns over safety were not addressed, as well as the response of the emergency services and government in the immediate aftermath of the fire.

At this stage, it is not possible to be certain as to what the outcomes of the inquiry may be. However, the Grenfell Tower Inquiry has generated a backlash from those affected before any real progress has been made or any outcomes suggested, thus reflecting the potentially conflicted and fragmented nature of public inquiry‐based policy development.

Although an important part of state apparatus, it is unlikely that a public, wide‐scale, inquiry will lead to outcomes that will satisfy all involved. Concerns notwithstanding, ‘the inquiry’ undoubtedly allows governments to demonstrate—in a high‐profile, public manner—that ‘action’ is being taken.

Spectator or participant?


Neither expert‐led policy development nor the public inquiry is a ‘perfect’ approach. The first offers breadth of experience but has the potential to leave those most directly affected on the margins of the policies made in their name. The second offers ‘participation’ but alongside the risk of no tangible outcomes due to the fragmentary, multi‐perspective, sometimes conflicting wants and needs of victims. Whilst the inquiries discussed in this article have yet to produce a final outcome, they have sought to include the ‘victim voice’ as much as possible.

Genuine participation by victims undoubtedly adds depth to any government consultation, while expert and practitioner input in public inquiries provides breadth of experience. Offering victims a chance to move from spectator to participant in this process will improve the potential for impactful policy to be created in their name.

Natacha Harding is Lecturer in Criminology at the University of Winchester. 


This article is adapted from a longer piece in the Political Quarterly journal.

Image by ChiralJon. 

Monday, 23 July 2018

How the right undermined the state (and how the left let it happen)

Eliane Glaser



When Steve Bannon, then President Trump’s chief strategist, announced as one of his key goals ‘the deconstruction of the administrative state’, many liberals were appalled. What was less clear, however, was what the administrative state really was, and why it should be defended. Who would say they are in favour of such a dull, faceless concept?

In this article, I’ll be arguing that while the right attacks the state, the left has abandoned it without really thinking its position through; and this pincer movement impacts negatively on us all.

The ‘S’ word


Over the last four decades, the right has led a concerted campaign to denounce, undermine and dismantle the state. Claiming that austerity was unavoidable, rather than ideological, David Cameron and George Osborne committed to push the state down to 36 per cent of GDP or less (in Denmark it is 50 per cent). Liam Fox disparaged ‘pen-pushers’ in the civil service; Michael Gove labelled education officials ‘the blob’. On both sides of the Atlantic, ‘the state’ became synonymous with ‘the big state’. ‘Reform’ became code for shrinking it.

Yet while the left, for its part, has loudly condemned cuts to schools and hospitals, it invariably stops short of making a case for the state as a structural entity. As Polly Toynbee notes in her recent book Dismembered, one of the few current explicit endorsements of the state, we on the left mumble ‘the s-word’ in an embarrassed undertone, barely able to even mention this obsolete relic of the twentieth century.

Even with the recent collapse of outsourcing giants Serco and Capita, it seems that the only acceptable way to articulate the value of the state is to express our love for the NHS.

So why has the state become so unpopular, even among its traditional advocates? One explanation lies in our view of the 1945 welfare settlement. Many influential voices on both the radical and mainstream left claim that the post-war state was paternalistic, top-down, and bureaucratic, embodying a one-size-fits-all approach.

The downsides to thinking differently


We must ‘think differently about the state’, argues a report by Labour MPs Liz Kendall and Steve Reed entitled ‘Let it Go: Power to the People in Public Services’: services are ‘predicated, inappropriately, on a kind of parent–child relationship’. In her new book Radical Help, the social entrepreneur Hilary Cottam calls for an overhaul of the twentieth century state, and the use of digital platforms to empower people to form enabling relationships. Localism, autonomy and co-production are the buzzwords of the day.

But although it’s become unfashionable to admit it, are we not vulnerable human beings often in need of ‘top-down’ help – when we are young, ill, old, and many stages in between? The disintegration of jobs for life into the gig economy makes us less, not more, empowered. And the drive towards grassroots autonomy is at risk of playing into the hands of the right-wing small-state agenda.

As for the claim that the post-war state was bureaucratic, the anthropologist David Graeber has challenged the association between the public sector and bureaucracy, arguing that it’s more prevalent in our bloated corporations. Services are often delivered more efficiently at scale. Bureaucracies are less human than community organisations, but making impartial and impersonal decisions can be a virtue. Some services, like social security and health treatment, are pretty generic.

A state of disrepair


I’m not sure that people really want to take responsibility for their care – don’t we actually just want to leave it to professionals with the knowledge and expertise to make sure we get what we need? Do we really want social services, health, education and so on to be ‘democratised’, or just organised and distributed reasonably and equitably? The problem with state provision is surely not that it’s authoritarian or impersonal, but that it’s privatised, dysfunctional and corrupt.

Progressives seem unable to distinguish between the state’s inherent values and flaws, and the recent pressures exerted upon it by funding cuts and marketisation; between its essential architecture, and its state of disrepair. When people declare that we can’t go back to the post-’45 settlement, it’s not clear if they mean it was an incongruous blip, a luxury we can no longer afford, or something we wouldn’t go back to even if we had the resources.

The neglect of these structural considerations goes hand in hand with a broader problem currently affecting our political culture and discourse: there is a reluctance, on all political sides, to think on a macro, institutional scale – a general anti-political climate that is damaging both our democracy and our society.

Reimagining the modern state


So what should the modern state look like, and what should it do? In order to attempt to answer these questions, we need to have a concerted debate about which aspects of the welfare state are worth preserving, and which need to be remade. And we need to assess what is genuinely new about our era and that would require the state to be reimagined. Why is the state presumed now to have ‘had its day’: is it really because it is no longer relevant to the new times in which we live, or is it because the right has simply succeeded in persuading the public that it needs to be ‘modernised’?

Currently, we only seem willing or able to have large-scale discussions about the polity in relation to new technology and automation. But technology tends to alienate and atomise rather than bring people together. 

The much-vaunted blockchain is only really an arcane verification tool, rather than an alternative system of service provision. There is currently a lot of excitement around a universal basic income as the solution to a post-work future, but a UBI cannot build, maintain and run schools and hospitals; and it would presumably need to be distributed by the state – dots rarely joined by its proponents.

A more productive framework for reinventing the state may be the idea of care. Most people do not want to be cared for by robots in their old age. Most care work is poorly paid, or not paid at all. As traditional jobs dwindle, and the population ages, can we begin to see ‘care’ as the foundation of a renewed state – and indeed a renewed politics – which is human, generous, and reconnects public with private?

It’s time to design and advocate for a vision of the state that contains elements of old and new, and in a language that appeals to a jaded public. Yes, we must recognise the importance of subsidiarity and the need for services to speak in a human language and engage with individuals in their diverse contexts. But we must also remember that the state enshrines the invaluable principle of the common good.

The state is designed to protect us all – whatever our status – against poverty, illness, and corporate exploitation. It is currently being prevented from performing that role, and as a result, the principle of the common good is curdling into nationalism. The solution is not less state, but more.

Eliane Glaser is a senior lecturer at Bath Spa University, an associate research fellow at Birkbeck, University of London, and a BBC radio producer. She is the author of Anti-Politics: On the Demonization of Ideology, Authority and the State (Repeater, 2018).

Image by Andrew Newill. 

Monday, 16 July 2018

The Conservative Party are at the brink of a civil war. What might happen next?

Tom Quinn 



Theresa May’s announcement that a Brexit plan had been agreed by the cabinet at Chequers sparked a week of turmoil in British politics. The plan set out a vision of the UK’s future relations with the EU but its most controversial element was a proposed policy on customs that would see Britain remain partially aligned with EU rules.

The subsequent resignations of the Brexit secretary, David Davis, and the foreign secretary, Boris Johnson have pushed the Conservative Party to the brink of a civil war. So, what is likely to happen?

The context for recent events lies in the 2017 general election. The hung parliament deprived May’s government of its majority and left it reliant on a confidence-and-supply agreement with the Democratic Unionist Party. Despite that, it would take only a handful of pro-EU Tory rebels to side with the opposition to defeat the government. That is precisely what happened over the ‘meaningful vote’ amendment to the Withdrawal Bill that recently came into law. At every step, the government has had to seek compromises with Remainers to avoid defeat.

May has had no alternative but to water down the position she adopted in her Lancaster House speech of January 2017, where she declared that Britain would leave the customs union and the single market. This position, described by critics as one of ‘hard Brexit’, could have been pushed through if the government enjoyed a healthy parliamentary majority. However, it has been almost impossible to follow through.

The Chequers agreement adopted a policy that many Leavers characterised as ‘soft Brexit’ because it limits the extent of the UK’s break with the EU. May insisted that it was the most she could get through parliament: any harder policy would have been defeated and parliament would have voted to remain in the customs union. May’s allies have hinted that they would be prepared to rely on Labour votes to push any final soft Brexit deal with the EU through parliament. Leaving aside whether Labour would want to help out the prime minister, such an aggressive move would risk an historic split in the Conservative Party.

The challenge to May’s leadership


Despite the shock of the election result, May remained largely unchallenged by her party for a year. No one was sure who would win a leadership contest to replace her and so each faction in the party was content to leave her in post knowing that a prime minister without much authority would be forced to listen to her colleagues.

That has now changed with the Chequers agreement. The Leave faction congregated around Jacob Rees-Mogg and the European Research Group (ERG) of Tory backbenchers that he chairs has decided that May can no longer be trusted. They complain that the Chequers policy is merely a starting point and is likely to be further eroded during negotiations with the EU. Leavers appear ready to use guerrilla tactics to force a change of policy – and perhaps a change of prime minister. However, there are dangers for all concerned.

The rules for removing a Conservative leader stipulate that 15 per cent of Tory MPs must write to the chairman of the backbench 1922 committee requesting a confidence vote. That currently amounts to 48 MPs. Once that threshold has been reached, a secret ballot of Tory MPs is organised and the leader needs to win a simple majority of those voting to remain in post. If all 316 Tory MPs voted, that would mean the winning line was 159.

There appears little doubt that the Leavers could generate 48 signatures for a confidence vote but actually winning it would be much more difficult. If May lost the ballot, she would be obliged to resign and a leadership contest would be held (she would not be permitted to participate). A series of parliamentary ballots would whittle the number of candidates down to two. These would go forward to a ballot of the party’s 100,000, mainly pro-Brexit members.

Many Remainers and pragmatic Leavers – including those who chose not to resign from the cabinet – might worry that either Johnson or Rees-Mogg could end up as leader. For that reason, they could be willing to support May in the confidence vote. If May did win the ballot, party rules prevent any further confidence vote within the following 12 months. It is imperative for the prime minister’s opponents, therefore, that if they attempt to remove her, they are successful first time. There is no guarantee of that at the moment.

That is not to say May is safe. Leadership challenges can take on a life of their own. Even if she won a confidence vote, she might end up badly damaged – a narrow victory would reveal that half the party had no confidence in its leader. She might yet be prevailed upon to resign and make way for someone else. The new home secretary, Sajid Javid, is quickly emerging as a contender: a recent poll of Conservative members showed he would defeat most other candidates in a leadership contest. As a Remainer who has moved closer to the Brexiteers, Javid could claim to unite the party.

That would not, however, alter the parliamentary arithmetic. In the absence of another general election and a parliamentary majority, any prime minister would find it difficult to push through a harder Brexit. But an election could easily produce a Labour-led government, almost guaranteeing a softer Brexit.

The Brexiteers may decide to hold off for the time being and try other tactics. To that end, they have proposed four wrecking amendments to the trade bill currently going through parliament to keep up the pressure. But this situation is highly unstable. Some thought after the 2016 referendum that the Conservatives had resolved their split over Europe. In fact, there may be worse to come.

Tom Quinn is Senior Lecturer in Government, University of Essex. 

Image by Andrew Parsons.

"We’ve ended up with liberty for the few, rather than for the many" – Interview with Timothy Garton Ash

Anya Pearson



Anya Pearson interviews Timothy Garton Ash, Professor of European Studies at Oxford University and Guardian columnist, after he delivered the Political Quarterly's lecture 'What went wrong with liberalism? And what should liberals do about it?' 

As we grapple with anti-liberal populism and authoritarianism, one of the questions you address in your lecture is how far liberalism contributed to its own crisis. You dig deep into the characteristics of contemporary liberalism – your ‘charge sheet’ as you call it – including the fact that a) that we allowed liberalism to be reduced to economic liberalism b) liberalism has failed so many, especially poor people, c) ‘illiberal liberalism’ has become a great problem. What are the origins and symptoms of illiberal liberalism?


So obviously in every case you have to ask, ‘which liberalism was it?’ because liberalism is an extended family of practices, ideologies and philosophies. I think the bigger problem in scale has to do with the reduction of liberalism to economic liberalism which left a lot of people behind. It also had a cultural dimension in that it brought a lot of people into higher education. You had a dividing line around higher education; metropolitan, liberal people against closed.

A small part of this is what I call ‘illiberal liberalism’. An example of it would be a speaker like Germaine Greer or Julie Bindel being ‘no platformed’ at a British university because of their views on transgender people. What is behind that is a sense that people can only be exposed to a range of liberal views, and that it could be damaging, not just offensive, for people to be confronted with controversial, difficult views. That’s illiberal liberalism.

The idea that liberals should only listen to other liberals is a profoundly illiberal idea. One of the key ideas in John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty is what liberals should do is listen to the widest possible range of views, including grossly offensive ones, to challenge ourselves in our own views, maybe we may even find a grain of truth in those other views. What illiberal liberalism contributes to is a sense in a wider society that people aren’t allowed to say what they think. They’ll be prosecuted under hate speech laws or they’ll be ostracised or condemned in the media. And that is a feeling on which Trump, Brexit and populists everywhere really feed.

These days, who or what is a liberal? You mention that it’s far more diverse than simply economic liberalism; an extended family. Do you feel able to define it?


What all genuine liberalism has in common is it attaches a very high value to the liberty of the individual. That’s a necessary defining feature of liberalism. You go out from that and there are different recipes for how that might be possible. There’s no way, in my view, of seriously contesting that libertarianism or neoliberalism is a version of liberalism, which puts a very high value on property rights, economic liberty, leaving things to the market. But equally, there’s a very strong strand of modern egalitarian liberalism which says in order for people in any meaningful sense to be free, they have to have certain basic capabilities. They have to have enough to eat, they have to have a roof over their head, basic medical care, a decent education and so on. A lot of modern egalitarian liberalism is going in that direction.

One could argue that the trouble is we had the first kind of liberalism I described, rather than the second, and neglected the other social and cultural needs that arguably are necessary for people to genuinely enjoy liberty. We’ve ended up with liberty for the few, rather than for the many.

That brings us onto the idea that liberalism has failed certain sections of our society. Who has liberalism failed and why?


In the broadest sense, I think you could say that the kind of liberalism we have in Britain, America and so on has to some degree failed what you might loosely call ‘the other half’ of society. That can be defined socioeconomically – the people whose real wages gone down rather than up since the 2008 crisis, the people who got worse off while the rich have become much better off – but it can also be defined educationally, the half of society more of less has gone into higher education, lives in cities, enjoys travel, likes immigration and open society, and the half that resides in poor post-industrial cities in different parts of our countries with poor prospects who feel threatened by immigration.

It can be defined by what I call ‘inequality of attention’. I think there’s a really important point that what you see with the Trump vote and the Brexit vote; there are large parts of society who just feel they have not being even noticed, by mainstream media, metropolitian elites, let alone respected. If you want to put simplest, we’ve neglected the other half of our own society.

Maybe this is to the benefit of the other half of the world, by the way. It’s important to say that these same developments – financialisation, globalisation, open markets, open borders, from which less well-educated working class Brits and Americans have in part suffered, has also benefited working class Chinese and Indians. The utilitarian approach which looks for the greatest happiness for the greatest number globally neglects the national balance sheet, in particular the regional balance sheet. It’s very often particular regions of the country like the North of England, or the rust belt in the US, that does particularly badly out of liberal hegemony.

Talking about regional and even intra-borough inequality, you mentioned the Grenfell tower fire which symbolises economic inequality within the London Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. You argue that this speaks volumes about the inequality of attention and respect. Thinking about an increasingly polarised London – a ‘tale of two cities’ with extreme poverty and extreme wealth – do you think a city like London can provide the kind of environment liberalism needs to function well?


First of all, London is a shining example of living with a multicultural society without making mistakes of the ideology of multicuturalism. For the most part, London is place where people rub along together wherever people they came from. It has endless multiple, mixed identities. We’re all Londoners. On the whole, I think that’s a success story. What is not a success story are the socioeconomic divides, which were absolutely captured by the terrible tragedy of Grenfell tower.

My answer is I don’t think London on its own can [provide the appropriate environment for successful Liberalism], but I think for want of a better term, middle class liberals recognise what has gone wrong, and give us a politics which is frankly more redistributive of attention and respect, as well as money. I think London is actually one of the places which has the best chances of doing it well. But it’s got to be a different politics.

A politics which, in an odd way, has to be both more left wing and more right wing at the same time. It has to be more left wing in paying more attention to economic equality and social solidarity, but it has to be right wing in a sense in addressing deep concerns about community and identity. People genuinely feel threatened by rapid social change. We liberals cannot leave the nation to the nationalists. When I say nation, I mean not just Britain but England. With the World Cup, who could doubt that the English identity is a fantastically powerful emotional force? England is something too important to be left to UKIP.

A common force uniting people is certainly something we currently lack outside of the World Cup.


I think there can be several forces. You can have European identity, an environmentalist identity and so on. But not to the exclusion of the nation. You only needed to watch the World Cup to see just how strong national identity still is. And it doesn’t have to be reactionary. In my view, we have to keep working on a liberal patriotism.

You said a movement needs an idea (Keynes), an analysis (Beveridge) and a programme (1945). What do you see as being the most valuable ideas emerging from the centre left at the moment?


Well, I don’t think we’re there yet. Wherever you look, Western democracy is in crisis, be it US democrats, the French socialists, FPD? in Germany, Labour here, everywhere. I think that citizenship, identity, liberal patriotism is an important area. Sunder Katwala, for example, is working on a modern national identity.

What’s also absolutely crucial is the future of work. Because the fact is that the populists say ‘you’ve lost your job because of the immigrants’. In fact, you’ve probably lost it because of the digital revolution and technological change. That is accelerating and there is going to be more upheaval in the world of work. We are going to have to think about really quite radical solutions, like Universal Basic Income, a basic job guarantee, something of this kind. Something which to many people will sound like socialism. Because I just don’t think that at least for the foreseeable future, there are going to be enough jobs to go around.

To what extent should we see Macron as offering a valid form of the kind of revised liberalism you recommend? Has Macron really taken on board the damaging consequences of economic liberalism that you emphasised during the lecture?


His problem is that he hasn’t had a Thatcher before him. Thatcher already did the brutal deregulatory things: breaking the power of the unions, freeing up labour markets. Blair and New Labour could add into that a strong dimension of social justice and a larger role for the state. But Macron genuinely has an already bloated state and public spending. So he’s looking rather Thatcherite.

However, the hope is that once he’s done these things – some of which are clearly necessary – he will turn to the left, maybe before the next election. What I like about him is that he’s genuinely broken the mould. He keeps doing new combinations of Europeanism and patriotism, of globalism and localism, of the kind that I think we need. He is in the right general territory. Whether he actually succeeds is about French politics and French traditions.

My final question: why are you still a liberal?

There’s a wonderful song, the refrain of which is:

Je suis comme je suis
Je suis faite comme ça
Je plais à qui je plais
Que voulez-vous de moi


It’s actually sung by a lady of the night, but never mind... And in a way that’s the answer. I am as I am. I am actually a lifelong liberal. My political evolution is very boring, because I became a liberal as a student and have been ever since.

A more philosophical answer is that I still think that liberalism is the worst possible system apart from all the other systems that have been tried from time to time! It’s very easy in these times to ignore the extraordinary progress that has been made in European society over the last fifty years. It’s dramatic in Eastern Europe, which is close to my heart. Generations of people are free who were not free before, it’s as simple as that. But even our own society, with all its problems, is a much more genuinely liberal, tolerant society than it was fifty years ago. There’s a lot that liberals can still be proud of.

Anya Pearson is Social Media and Events Editor at the Political Quarterly.

Wednesday, 11 July 2018

As Tory Brexiters resign, the Labour leadership should reconsider a People’s Vote

Marina Prentoulis



Last week the much anticipated Unite vote on Brexit was revealed. The fairly weak statement by the conference delegates does not endorse a second referendum, which would put Theresa May’s Brexit deal to public vote. However, it does leave open the possibility that a ‘People’s Vote’ could be endorsed in the future “depending on circumstances”.

The Unite vote could potentially create a headache for Jeremy Corbyn, who has stated he will remain faithful to the “will of the people” who voted for Brexit. It may also cause problems for Unite’s General Secretary Len McClusky who pledged to campaign for a ‘People’s Vote’ despite his own Eurosceptic tendencies.

However, the Unite result does allow the Labour leadership to continue with its strategy of letting the Tories get consumed in internal strife until a general election becomes unavoidable.

Should Labour campaign for a People’s Vote?


After the Chequer’s meeting and the recent resignations of Tory Brexiters, it may be high time for Labour’s leadership to rethink and possibly start campaigning for a People’s Vote.

Putting the possibility of a snap general election aside for a moment, what if May’s government brings a Brexit deal to parliament sometime between October to December (when parliament’s vote will still be meaningful) and it is approved? Wouldn’t many argue that the deal will need authorisation of the people, through another referendum?

Taking in account Keir Starmer’s six point test (specifying that any proposed deal must have the same advantages as Britain enjoys now as a member of the Single Market and the Customs Union) and the current situation within the Tory party, parliamentary approval of the Brexit deal would be far from certain.

At that point, a general election could be called. Starmer’s test signals that the Labour leadership could at that point back a soft Brexit (especially since the majority of its voters are on the Remain side).

Until now, Labour has been reluctant to take on the role of the “Remain” party or the “soft Brexit” party, leaving the public discourse unaltered and divided between different Tory positions. At that point however, the Labour leadership would have to offer a principled narrative that will end the Brexit myth: for example, the victimization of migrants, and the idea that Britain has been obeying all these years the neoliberal EU (rather than shaping via successive Labour and Tory governments the politics of the EU).

The people speak again


Predictably, at that point some will accuse Labour for ignoring the democratic imperative of the referendum. “The people spoke”, they will say. The same people will see no contradiction in implying that the people should never speak again, at a referendum or any other forum related to Brexit.

I will bypass the lengthy debates on the consultative or binding nature of referenda. Instead, I will emphasise that the former position rests on a number of inherent problems: the oversimplification of policy questions, the impact of time and context on the outcome, their inconsistency on capturing the public support for a position as a one-off measurement, the difficulty for policy makers to interpreting the result; all the above and more would make referenda a questionable mode of delivering a democratic mandate.

I will iterate once more: a second referendum would not be a re-run of the “Remain or Leave” question, put forward in the hopes of reversing the Leave decision. It is a referendum on the terms of the potential deal that has been negotiated between the UK and the EU (rather than a UK proposal).

Britain may want to have its cake and eat it, or in Brexit terms, it may want to enjoy the same economic benefits as a member and control its own affairs ignoring common decisions and obligations. Unfortunately, this is not plausible.

Why a People’s Vote would help Labour


Even before an election, a People’s Vote should be one of Corbyn’s electoral commitments. And after a general election, a Corbyn-led government would need a strong mandate on Brexit. The only viable question for the Labour party would be a choice between soft Brexit and Remain. The dilemma would be between a soft Brexit which would deliver less control than Britain has now as a member of the union, or a Remain vote which would allow Corbyn to have a say in European affairs. A hard Brexit will compromise Labour’s pledge of putting working people first and making sure jobs are not lost.

I wish there was a third door and Labour could choose that. But there isn’t. Labour may very soon may have to face the EU negotiators, and It is better to do so with the people (and People’s Vote) on its side.

Marina Prentoulis is Senior Lecturer in Politics and Media, University of East Anglia, and spokesperson for Another Europe is Possible. 

Image by Marcus Linder. 

Monday, 9 July 2018

Why we shouldn’t expect too much from Prime Ministers

Nicholas Allen 

Anthony King thought and wrote a great deal about British prime ministers and political leadership. As Britain grapples with the challenge of Brexit, we should all take note of his counsel, especially against expecting too much in the way of ‘strong’ prime ministerial leadership.

At the time of his death, King was working on a long‐planned book-length study of the British prime ministership. The premise was to explore the styles and records of Britain's postwar premiers. Chapters dealing with Attlee, Churchill and Eden had been drafted; those covering Macmillan through Cameron had not.

The book would have been the culmination of a career-long interest in the office and its holders. King’s previous writings had always drawn on a remarkable understanding of real‐world practice. He had met most of Britain's postwar prime ministers and enjoyed access to some of the circles in which they moved.

Three categories of prime ministerial writings


King's earlier work on the subject generally fell into—and often straddled—one of three broad categories. In the first category were a number of essays that focused on the prime ministership as an institution. During the early 1990s, for instance, King wrote about the conflicting principles that structured Britain's political executive, how and when prime ministers impinged upon ministerial autonomy, and the power of British prime ministers compared with that of other ‘chief executives’ in Western Europe. The last of these essays argued that the British prime minister was one of the most powerful.

The second category of King's work included essays that focused on prime ministers as political operators. In a 2010 article, for example, he examined how different prime ministers had used their power of dismissal – and found that Margaret Thatcher had been far more likely than others to sack ministers on ideological or policy grounds.

The third broad category of King's work included essays that focused not so much on the job or those who did it, but on the getting of the job. King was very interested in the question of how and why parties selected their leaders. He thought that party members look “for the person who will lead the party best rather than the person who will lead the country best. The issue of who would make ‘the best prime minister’ … scarcely arises.”

The ‘presidentialisation’ of the office?


In his 2007 book The British Constitution, King robustly dismissed the idea that the prime ministership had become a “super presidency”. Rather, the office was simply what it had been for a long time: the headship of government in a parliamentary system that was capable of sustaining dominant leaders.

There had always been dominant prime ministers, and there had always been weaker prime ministers. John Major followed Margaret Thatcher, just as Lord Rosebery had followed William Gladstone a century earlier.

Higher expectations of prime ministers


King’s work also touched on the expectations surrounding prime ministers. There can be little doubt that many voters, journalists and politicians expect a great deal from them—and certainly much more than their counterparts of a century ago. Many people seemingly expect prime ministers to provide a clear sense of policy direction. They expect prime ministers to manage and dominate their colleagues. They expect prime ministers to respond to all emergencies and resolve all problems. In short, many people expect them to be strong leaders.

Consequences of high expectations


The general consequences of high expectations are all too clear. First, like all unrealistic expectations, they are likely to be a source of disappointment. Second, trying to meet expectations may to lead to dysfunctional behaviour. The logic and rules of British government are not designed around a single strong chief executive. There is no large personal staff to advise prime ministers, coordinate policy and ensure decisions are implemented. 

Moreover, if prime ministers try to concentrate decision making in their hands, they may increase the incidence of delayed and potentially flawed decisions. Third, if prime ministers seek to dominate colleagues, they will create enemies who may be more minded to strike if or when things go awry.

In his last published article, King looked at the relationship between ‘strong’ and ‘successful’ executive leadership, and concluded that the relationship in Britain was ‘tenuous and may even, possibly, be negative’.

He wrote these words before Theresa May succeeded David Cameron as Conservative leader and prime minister in 2016. Needless to say, May's imported from the Home Office her closed, controlling and—in the words of Kenneth Clarke—’bloody difficult’ style of leadership. In the process, she alienated many in her party and showed little inclination to build a broad consensus around what form Britain's post‐Brexit relationship with the EU should take.

Moreover, her promise of ‘strong and stable’ leadership backfired enormously during the 2017 general election. She was demonstrably neither. When her authority evaporated with her party's majority, any idea of prime ministerial dominance flew out the window.

For the country as a whole, a more inclusive style might have produced a better negotiating strategy and increased the likelihood of a better final deal.

Nicholas Allen is a Reader in Politics at the Department of Politics and International Relations, Royal Holloway, University of London. 

This article is adapted from a longer piece in the Political Quarterly journal.

Image by Number 10. 



Friday, 6 July 2018

Our Brexit preferences are far more complex than politicians allow for

Lindsay Richards



Political rhetoric loves a dichotomy: from Leavers-Remainers to Soft Brexiter-Hard Brexiter. But do the views of the public mirror those of the politicians?

The political rhetoric on Soft and Hard Brexit is, by now, familiar. On the soft-Brexit side, politicians advocate for a closer relationship with Europe, with continued tariff-free access to the single market, and staying inside the customs union. Advocates of the hard Brexit position, on the other hand, would prefer to keep Europe at arm’s length, and place more weight on matters relating to sovereignty, namely shaking off the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice and regaining control of immigration.

In our new study, we set out to explore in detail how soft-hard Brexit preferences play out in the minds of the British people.

Which type of ‘left behind’ matters most?


We also wondered what socio-demographic characteristics would be associated with attitudinal positions on Brexit. A prominent narrative after the referendum was that anti-EU feeling was driven by a feeling of being “left behind”. Some sections of British society have not benefitted from modernisation and globalisation, which brought increased affluence, higher status, and better living standards to a greater number. Those who remained in unskilled work with low incomes, the theory goes, increasingly feel resentment towards a political class that has become professionalised, and thus use their vote as a form of protest against the establishment.

Further, for those with scarce resources, immigrants are seen as direct competition for jobs and housing, and these perceptions may well be justified in some contexts.

An alternative (but connected) theory highlights the role of culture and values rather than economics. Beginning in the 1960s, younger, more educated cohorts have increasingly become ‘post-materialist’ and cosmopolitan: being open towards other cultures, immigration and diversity, as well as favourable views towards European integration.

In response to this secular shift, a ‘cultural backlash’ has occurred among the older, less educated, (and male) sectors of society who begrudge their familiar traditional values being gradually squeezed to the margins of society. The fact that older people were more likely to vote Leave than younger people supports the idea of the cultural backlash. Also backing this cultural account, several studies show that national identity (especially Englishness) is associated with the likelihood of voting leave.

We set out to test the different ideas beneath the attitudes. Which type of ‘left behind’ matters the most for understanding Brexit preferences?

The survey findings 


In our survey, which was conducted online in the summer of 2017, we asked our respondents to imagine themselves at the negotiating table tasked with getting the best possible deal, as they see it, for Britain. Faced with seven key issues (immigration, sovereignty, the Irish border, the single market and so forth) respondents indicated if they would drop the demand, if they would ‘budge’, or if it was a ‘red line’.

In our analysis we assumed that ‘latent’ (hidden, underlying) preferences were driving the responses to the seven survey questions. We found that two dimensions of preferences could be discerned.

The first dimension relates, quite strikingly, to the archetypical hard Brexit position where items given the most weight are sovereignty and budget contributions, followed by immigration. We call this “the Sovereignty factor”. The second dimension, which we label “the Cooperative factor”, is defined by high degree of importance attached to scientific collaboration within the EU and access to the single market.

We delved deeper into the structure of the underlying attitudes by defining (statistically) classes of people who have a tendency to answer the attitudinal questions in similar ways. These types we then plotted onto the two dimensions of Sovereignty and Cooperation – see Figure 1.

Figure 1: Five attitude types plotted on two dimensions of Sovereignty and Cooperation.
Bubble size represents the size of the latent class in terms of the proportion of respondents. The two factor scores run from -1.8 to +1.2 and have a mean of zero. 

We find three classes on the diagonal: those mentioning lots of red lines (the “Cake and Eat it” class) score high on the two dimensions, while those wanting to budge or make a deal score low on the two dimensions (“Negotiators” and “Deal-makers”). These three classes have in common that respondents are not strongly discriminating between the different issues.

This is in contrast to the opposing positions of the “Hard Brexiters” and the “Europhiles”: these two groups are more similar to the prominent political viewpoints in which clear distinctions are made between the issues on the table, but the two groups prioritize the opposite issues. Thus, we find that soft-hard Brexit preferences are not either/or in the minds of the British public, and many prioritise all or none of the issues. The two opposing positions together account for 37% of the public’s view. That is, just over one third differentiate between the salient issues in ways congruent with political ideals.

And what about the ‘left behind’ theories? We find that older people have a stronger stance in both directions, being likely to score higher on both the Sovereignty and Cooperation dimensions – see Figure 2.

Figure 2: Socio-demographic profiles.
Plot of linear regression coefficients; outcomes are the two latent factors; References categories are Living comfortably (financial situation), No qualifications, 18-24 (age), British (national identity), Weak (national identity strength); bars show 95% confidence intervals

National identity plays a particular role in the socio-demographic profiles of these attitude types, being linked to one dimension or another. Englishness is associated with more weight on Sovereignty issues while Europeanness and Irishness are linked with Cooperation. We find limited support for the economically left behind thesis with financial position and feeling that politicians don’t care having little bearing on preferences.


Lindsay Richards, Centre for Social Investigation, Nuffield College, Oxford.


This article is adapted from a longer piece in the Political Quarterly journal.

Image by Avaaz. 

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

The twisted path that has led us to a crisis in penal policy

Gemma Birkett 



We are in the midst of the latest and perhaps most radical reconfiguration of the penal state in the UK. Such changes are permeating all aspects of the landscape and calling the legitimacy of the ‘system’ into question. From transformations in judicial sentencing policy to the ‘hollowing out’ of probation and the ‘crisis’ of the custodial estate and rehabilitation, recent developments have heralded an unprecedented disruption of policy, practice and political discourse.

Whatever happened to the promises of fresh thinking encapsulated by the coalition government's ‘rehabilitation revolution’? In its place, we have witnessed greater levels of prison overcrowding, mass court closures (including the development of a digital justice platform) and the highly contentious introduction of the private sector into probation services. What impact are these developments having on the initiation, formulation and implementation of penal policy? How can we further our theoretical understandings of what is unfolding?

The past fifty years have seen changes in penal policy from penal welfarism, to offender management, to new forms of network politics. Several important milestones have contributed to current penal controversies.

From principled pragmatism to new penal governance


The postwar climate within which penal policy was designed was one of principled pragmatism and rehabilitative policies. This approach collapsed in the late 1970s, with its demise garnering support from both the political right and left. There had been a growing realisation that purely rehabilitative measures had not substantially reduced the crime rate and that some forms of rehabilitation (under the name of ‘treatment’) were exploitative and inhumane. This ‘vacuum’ was soon plugged by the ‘justice model’ that was set to dominate penal policy in the UK and across the Atlantic during the 1980s and 1990s.

‘Justice’ in this context meant the introduction of more punitive policies designed to appeal to growing public anxieties about the upwards crime trend. Previously focused on ‘reforming the offender’, the new discourse was concerned with the ‘management of risk’. Key elements of the project (competition, contracting‐out, performance management, measurement and evaluation) heralded the beginnings of radical transformations to the penal sphere.

Theoretical conceptions of the state have since moved from the language of new public management to that of new public governance, which views the state as ‘an interaction of multiple stakeholders’. In common with other areas of the public sector, the modern penal state can therefore be characterised as decentralised (administered through arms‐length bodies), fragmented (through more outsourcing, more contracting out and more partnership‐working with private and voluntary providers). Such developments have obvious implications for legitimacy, accountability and risk, particularly pertinent in the penal field.

Coalition penal policy and beyond…


The election of 2010 undoubtedly provided a policy window for those hoping to witness a new direction in penal policy. The first Justice Secretary, Ken Clarke, promised a ‘rehabilitation revolution’. Announcing that fewer young people would be sent to custody and that those with mental health or addiction problems would receive specialist help in the community, this renewed focus on rehabilitation came hand in hand with other, managerialist developments.

To the dismay of reformers, Clarke was removed from office in 2012 and replaced by ‘attack dog’ Chris Grayling, unashamedly punitive in his approach. Clarke's legacy did continue, however, and his early visions formed the basis of the Transforming Rehabilitation agenda, enshrined in the Offender Rehabilitation Act of 2014.

A recipient of one of the biggest budget cuts in government, the Ministry of Justice (and its executive agencies) was subsequently forced to undergo radical restructuring during the period of imposed austerity. The department framed its actions under the banner of ‘Transforming Justice’, but in reality this represented an urgent need to cut costs, streamline provision, and contract out services where possible.

Such fundamental changes resulted in a busy legislative agenda. The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders (LASPO) Act received royal assent in 2012. More changes came in the form of the Offender Rehabilitation Act of 2014. The legislation contained the measure to contract out to the private sector the management of low and medium level offenders in the community, thus splitting the existing probation service into two.

Continued unrest in our prisons means that the need for fundamental reform remains equally high on the agenda. It remains to be seen, however, whether the government will place the same priority on the prison reform agenda now that we have entered the era of Brexit politics. It may be that the policy window has now closed (for now at least), and that the justice agenda will now be dominated by the politics of terrorism, immigration and a recalibration of human rights. For those who would like to read more on the subject, this Political Quarterly special issue is our collective attempt to make sense of what is going on.

Gemma Birkett is a Lecturer in Criminology at City University. 
This article is adapted from a longer piece in the Political Quarterly journal.

Image by Daniel Chapman.